Potentiality of Coffee Farming in CHT


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Feature Desk

Coffee cultivation in CHT is a matter of new experience of the locals. According to the experts, the environment in CHT is very much suitable for producing world class coffee. The origin was spread at the turn of the century with the government handing out a few coffee saplings to farmers in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to try out. But the initiative did not get momentum a decade later; then Rick Hubbard, an American national took some positive initiative. From handing out saplings to training farmers on processing the coffee cherry, Hubbard has been involved every step of the way, often collaborating with non-governmental organizations as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for the end. He propagated to cultivate instead of 20 trees, 1,000 trees. He arranged seedlings for farmers. Now coffee is being grown in three districts of CHT at least in a significant scale. Mr. Hubbard buys almost all the coffee that is grown in Bangladesh, 90 per cent of which is in Bandarban.

Coffee cherries, which encases the coffee bean, need to be picked only when they are bright red in colour and fully ripe. The cherries are then peeled, dried out in the sun and then processed. Mr. Hubbard purchases a kilogram of “passable quality” coffee beans for Tk 300 and good-quality ones for Tk 320, which he says is higher than the Fair Trade prices. He is doing it for the encouragement of the farmers.

To teach farmers about the discipline of harvesting and processing beans, Mr. Hubbard’s company North End as well as a couple of NGOs brought in professional trainers. For coffee farming to truly flourish in CHT, the support of the government is needed in the form of more coffee bean processing machines. There are 7 lakh hectares of wastelands in hilly areas that are unused. Government may utilize those unused wastelands for coffee farming. Coffee plantation is actually good for the hill tracts, which has a major erosion problem. For coffee trees to thrive, elevation, consistent rainfall and volcanic soil are needed. There is a huge demand for coffee in Bangladesh and abroad and farmers are also interested.

There is potential to grow some good coffee in Bangladesh. Hubbard thinks the coffee grown in Bangladesh can knock it with the ones grown in central and South America. Vietnam is the perfect example for Bangladesh to follow. Coffee plantation in Vietnam did not take off in a big way until the 1980s and today it is the second-biggest exporter of coffee in the world, behind only Brazil. But Bangladesh has better prospects as the coffee grown here are mostly the superior, smoother-tasting arabica variety. Vietnam produces the bitter-tasting robusta coffee bean, which is used mainly for instant coffee.

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